Bad reviews. An executive scandal. International data breach. A product malfunction. These are all examples of a PR crisis that many businesses have had to overcome, and they won’t be the last.
In today’s age of social media and innovation, the likelihood of a business facing a PR crisis continues to soar. While no one expects you to be perfect, how you respond can either give you a much-needed image boost or significantly damage your brand, alienating your customer base.
When a crisis does arise, use these helpful tips to navigate through the storm:
Appoint a response team.
Every business should already have a response team in place before a crisis hits to help ensure the right people are speaking on behalf of the company. This allows the organization to respond faster and speak with one voice, which can be difficult to achieve when multiple people are speaking on the company’s behalf.
The response team should be small and include the CEO, the company’s top PR executives and legal counsel. If the company’s PR executive does not have sufficient crisis communication expertise, consider retaining an agency with that specialty.
In addition, when a PR crisis occurs, each member of the response team should understand their role and responsibilities to help avoid confusion as well as any cross-over of duties.
Brief your team.
Once the strategy has been determined, relay the protocol to all persons who could be approached to speak on the company’s behalf. This means informing all employees, stakeholders, board members, etc., of who is to be speaking with the media and how they can direct any inquiries.
Craft your message.
Once the facts about the incident have been gathered, the team should agree on how to frame the response. When it comes to the response, think about the most transparent way to address the situation and what your company has done or will do about it – without placing external blame. In the response, be honest and open with your audience.
Once the message is crafted, it needs to be delivered in a timely manner. The sooner you apologize and admit the mistake, the sooner the public will forgive you. A prime example of a crisis being resolved correctly is how Starbucks handled their recent scandal by apologizing in a public statement, taking responsibility for the occurrence and making it clear that it won’t happen again.
Identify and address the affected parties.
Once the message has been crafted, identify the people who should know about the situation. This may include employees, stakeholders, business partners, customers and media. Audiences who need to be informed will depend on the context of the situation, but regardless of who’s receiving the message, you should make sure it is sent out in a timely manner.
Monitor the situation.
Assessing the brand’s image is especially important following a PR crisis, so keep an eye on inbound and outbound communications to address follow-up questions or concerns.
It’s also important to also track what people are saying about a company online. One way to do this is by establishing a monitoring system that quickly uncovers negative trends before they become a bigger problem and migrate to the media.
Dittoe PR uses TrendKite to track and monitor media coverage for clients, which allows us to look at the company’s media coverage, share of voice, sentiment, social media amplification, competitors’ coverage and more.
Review and learn from the situation.
Once the crisis is over, conduct a post-action review to determine how well your staff and management handled the situation. During the review, discuss what you could have done differently and what changes are necessary to prevent a similar situation.
What not to do.
When you come face-to-face with a PR crisis, stay away from these tactics:
- Lashing out: Even if a media outlet or opposing party has said something false about your company, it is never a good idea to respond negatively or blame the complaint for the situation.
- Offering no comment: Not having answers to potential questions is the worst thing you can do during a crisis. If you don’t have enough information to give a solid response, say so and assure that you will issue a statement when you have more details.
- Responding too quickly: Handling a PR crisis is all about timing, so don’t give an answer prematurely before you know all the facts. This may cause you to contradict previous statements later could further damage your reputation.
- Responding too slowly: In addition, delaying your response won’t do you any favors either. For instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t respond to the Cambridge Analytica crisis until four days after it erupted, which is considered a lifetime in today’s crisis playbooks and significantly damaged his credibility.
- Dwelling on the situation: A period of bad press is often just a hiccup on your path to success, so don’t let it completely distract you from continuing daily business responsibilities.
- Avoid assembling a plan: Almost all crises can be avoidable with the right planning. Don’t wait until the last minute to assemble a thorough crisis communications plan.